Monthly Archives: August 2012

Freeze Frame Friday II: Jordan Schafer and Eminem

I think “I Need a Doctor,” because I’m definitely seeing double.

After nearly a month-long hiatus, it’s back!  Having to go through pun withdrawals is quite troubling, so it’s time to change things up again ( cue the drum set, I’m feeling a series of rim-shots).

This week, we have Houston Astros center fielder Jordan Schafer and multiplatinum recording artist Eminem.

Currently on the 15 day Disabled List with a left shoulder injury, Schafer, the 25 year-old Indiana native feels as though he hasn’t played in a major league game in “Forever.”

2012 has been Schafer’s third consecutive attempt to break out into stardom after a positive HGH test in 2008 left him suspended for 50 games.  Experts rationalized the decision to enhance his training, saying, “He needed a little controversy.”

The left-handed speedster is batting a feeble .216 on the season but is 2 for 3 against Detroit rap legend Papa Doc after defeating him in an open mic night last weekend.

Schafer has been far from the Astros’ only disappointment this season.  At 40-91, Houston finds itself a study in mediocrity, trailing the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds by 39.5 games.  The rest of the MLB just stood there to watch the Astros burn through all their players as they essentially cleaned house by gutting their more expensive contracts towards the end of last season.

The perennial cellar dwellers need to remind themselves that “it’s not so bad…it’s not so bad.”  Before they know it, they’ll be trying their luck in the AL West.

Still, Schafer remains unfazed and brutally honest with critics as well as people who insist he is Eminem.  “It’s a little too late to say that you’re sorry now, you kicked me when I was down, but what you say just don’t hurt me,” he said.

Note: the real Jordan  Schafer prefers to stand during interviews.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under MLB

2012 College Football Season Offers Chance for Redemption

As college football kicks off its season, the next few months could bring something that hasn’t been seen in quite some time: positive headlines for USC, Ohio State and Penn State.

Each school is recovering from its own scandals and hardships. For USC, a two-year bowl ban for lack of institutional control has kept them from the postseason but their problems have extended further than that, after a disappointing 2009 season left them out of the top- 4 for the first time in seven years. With senior quarterback Matt Barkley returning for his senior year, joined with arguably the nation’s most potent wide receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, USC could be ready for a perfect storm of a season putting forth the best team they’ve had in years just as their bowl ban is lifted. After finishing last year ranked sixth, USC will open the season atop the AP Poll, primed to rid themselves of the sour taste they’ve had in their mouth since 2009.

Barkley is looking up at his team’s high hopes.

Like USC, Ohio State was one of the powerhouse programs of the 2000’s, but a scandal of their own lost them their coach, Jim Tressel, and sent the team into a rough 6-6 season a year ago. The Buckeyes’ fall from grace began in 2010 when several players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were suspended for five games of the 2011 season for receiving improper benefits from a tattoo parlor. Tressel also received a suspension for not telling the university about the benefits. His suspension turned into a resignation after more NCAA accusations against Tressel were made. Without their star quarterback and head coach, the Buckeyes limped through a disappointing 6 win season.

With the Buckeyes now coached by Urban Meyer, the former Florida coach who led the Gators to two national titles,  Ohio State has new life and will start the season at No. 18 in the AP Poll. With the high expectations back, the Buckeyes are in familiar territory and will hope to quickly rebuild the program to its past dominance. A solid season this year will be the first step of that process, and will help put the scandals and last year’s poor season behind them.

Ohio State should be stronger under coach Urban Meyer.

Penn State’s redemption is of a slightly different strain, in that they are still in the midst of their punishment. After nearly a year of constant negativity surrounding the university due to the Jerry Sandusky case and coach Joe Paterno’s connections to it, the Nittany Lions are more than ready to put the headlines behind them and make some of their own on the football field. While their four-year bowl ban will keep them out of the postseason, they will still be looking to prove that the mistakes of their university and their coaches won’t stop the team from fighting and playing their hardest. The season will be a good distraction, for players and media alike, from the past year of bad news for Penn State.

Coming off their recent scandals, these three teams are hoping the 2012 season renews their glory of old.

Leave a comment

Filed under Football, NCAA

Patience Pays Off for Lakers’ Front Office Duo

So what do I do when I have nothing to write about?

I write about what I know best – the Lakers.

So I was thinking yesterday about the Lakers and how the team added Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, and Antawn Jamison this offseason.

When you think about this, and you wind back the clock three, four, five months and you really think about this, you wonder – How the f*** did this happen?

Lakers executive Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchack just don’t get enough credit for saving a declining Lakers team/era.

It starts and ends with Andrew Bynum.

From the day he drafted him, Jim Buss supported Andrew Bynum like no one else did. He believed the young kid could blossom into a superstar, and the Lakers next franchise player.

Image

The first time Mitch Kupchack has smiled in a few years…

In 2007, a struggling Lakers team was fighting to just make the playoffs. The deal was available – a package centered on Andrew Bynum for All-Star Jason Kidd. Many Lakers fans, and even Kobe Bryant, wanted the team’s management to pull the trigger on the deal. Jim Buss couldn’t do it. He couldn’t part ways with the 19-year-old center and his vast potential.

Then came the summer of chaos in 2007.

Kobe Bryant, frustrated with the Lakers front office for not making the Kidd deal, requested to be traded. He then trashed Bynum in a viral video that went public.

The Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves began talking about trading Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Kevin Garnett, but the T-Wolves wanted more.

With their franchise in disarray and their superstar player unsatisfied, it would have been easy for Kupchack and Buss to cave.

They didn’t. They held firm, and did so again, with the Jason Kidd offer remaining on the table. So the Lakers moved on from the summer without making any significant moves.

In 2008, Bynum started showing the talent that Buss always believed he had. But when Bynum went down with a knee injury, Kupchack made the Gasol trade and the Lakers went on to make three NBA Finals and win two championships.

Eventually the team’s championship window closed, and Buss and Kupchack returned to work.

In February 2011, the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes were on. The offer was on the table – Andrew Bynum for Carmelo Anthony, with other minor players involved.

Anthony, an impending free agent, was willing to sign an extension with the Lakers. Bynum was coming off two knee surgeries in the last three season, and concerns that he was “injury-prone” were rampant at the time. Also, the team had a better record without him, 18-7, than with him, 18-9, that season.

The Lakers front office didn’t budge, in large part because Jim Buss strong support of Bynum.

Months later, after the team was coming off an embarrassing sweep to the Dallas Mavericks, the debate raged – should the Lakers give their core another chance or should they make a major move?

In December 2011, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchack decided on the latter and traded for Chris Paul in a deal involving Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, leaving the Lakers.

Image

So David Stern allows the heavily lopsided Gasol trade, rejects the fair CP3 trade, and allows the lopsided Dwight trade?

What happened next was out of their control – David Stern rejecting the trade. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom, then asked to be traded, and Mitch Kupchack granted his wish.

Lakers fans everywhere were upset that Kupchack actually traded Odom, and more importantly got “nothing” in return for him. Even Bryant said he didn’t like the move.

They didn’t get “nothing” though. They received a first round pick and a $8.9 million trade exception, which would come in handy later.

After another second round exit in the 2012 playoffs, the Lakers definitely needed help. With Gasol’s consecutive second-round disappearing acts, he was the player most likely to be traded. So the trade offers came in – Kevin Martin and Luis Scola from Houston, Josh Smith from Atlanta, and other potential draft day trades.

The Lakers were a desparate team, but Kupchack and Buss were a patient duo. They wanted the right move, not just any move to please a frustrated fan base.

That patience paid dividends as the Lakers completed a sign-and-trade for two-time MVP Steve Nash in July, a move only possible with the Odom trade exception.

Then a month later, Jim Buss finally gave up Andrew Bynum, and Mitch Kupchack delivered the Dwight Howard trade.

Buss waited on Bynum as he developed from a 17-year-old project into the NBA’s second best center and then traded him for the league’s best center. Buss, the rich kid who supposedly lived off his father’s reputation, showed that he’s more than capable of managing the franchise.

To most Lakers fans, Buss and Kupchack will be remembered as the duo who brought Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to LA.

Instead though they should be remembered for all the moves they didn’t make.

Imagine the Lakers having Jason Kidd now? Or Kevin Garnett? Or even Carmelo?

Or they could have Steve Nash AND Dwight Howard now?

And that’s why every Lakers fan should send Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchack a card plus chocolates this Christmas.

Leave a comment

Filed under NBA

A Justified “Jones”-ing for Retirement

For about three summers, it was impossible to turn to ESPN without hearing the words “Brett” and “Favre.”

Pundits speculated as to whether he’d make his triumphant return, first with the New York Jets, then with the Minnesota Vikings…and so on.

Private jets to and from Mississippi represented life decisions to us.  SportsNation even devoted an entire episode to breaking the Guinness World Record for the most times mentioning Brett Favre in a sixty-minute period.

For three years the long-time vet from Southern Miss contemplated retirement ad nauseum.  The media circus surrounding his entire life produced enough drama and frustration to make Breaking Bad look like a sitcom.

Getting out of the spotlight has allowed Favre to once again enjoy football.  He should have done this three years ago

And what does he have to show for it?  A trip to the 2009 NFC Championship Game, sure, but two mediocre seasons that sandwiched this stellar performance.

His last stand in 2010 left him concussed, no longer starting and otherwise battered.  Favre’s 5-8 curtain call made for his second-worst season record-wise and was coupled with the meteoric rise of his former understudy Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.

Where is Favre in 2012?  Living a relatively quiet life outside his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, acting as an assistant coach for Oak Grove High School—and loving every minute of it.

Another southern-born man in his forties will soon face the same crossroads that thrice tripped Favre up.

Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves is closing in on 19 years in Major League Baseball and he has sworn this is his last.

Jones, who spent much of the first month-and-a-half of the 2012 season on the Disabled List nursing a pesky leg injury, came back on fire and is now sitting pretty with a .302 batting average, 13 homers and 54 RBI—better totals than he’s had in four years.

Some Jones “fans” are beginning to come out of the woodwork to say, “Come on, there’s no way he can retire with numbers this good.”

If Chipper Jones listens to any of this, we’re in for round two of the “should I stay or should I go?” game.

But Jones and Braves fans everywhere should learn from the failures of lingering heroes of old—the Brett Favres, the Rickey Hendersons even the Michael Jordans of the world (indeed not too many 39 year-old wizards have tricks up their sleeves).

As we’ve seen, triumphant and beloved can turn to borderline pathetic in the matter of a season.

Jones hasn’t wavered in his end of the year retirement promise.

Jones has given Atlanta more than it could have ever hoped for—8 All-Star Game appearances, a .304 lifetime batting average, a 1995 World Series title, plus the intangibles that come with over a decade of team leadership.

Now Braves and Chipper Jones fans everywhere have the tough responsibility of letting their idol retire with dignity.

The only remaining accomplishments he would pursue upon returning are numerical; 3,000 and 500 come to mind but are still two-plus potentially injury-ridden seasons out.

He’s given Braves fans a victory lap to remember, received a thunderous, anticipatory standing ovation at the All-Star Game in Kansas City and placed himself alongside Henry Aaron and Phil Niekro as one of Atlanta’s all-time greats.  A Hollywood ending in the form of second World Series is an outside possibility as well.

Number 10 has accomplished too much wearing the battle-axe to risk eventually overstaying his welcome.

While Cooperstown waits, Jones should commit to his exit strategy (like he so intelligently has been) and in the meantime give back to the local baseball community and attempt to mentor a new generation of All-Star third basemen.

1 Comment

Filed under MLB

Rookie Quarterbacks Quickly Enter the Spotlight

Quarterbacks were the hot commodities in the 2012 NFL Draft. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III went one and two and were immediately expected to be dominant forces in the league for years. But beyond that talented twosome, this draft could prove to be one of the deepest quarterback drafts in recent memory, as five rookies will take the helms of their teams on opening day. Outside of Luck and RGIII, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and, most recently, Russell Wilson have been named their teams’ starting QBs.

Russell Wilson impressed the Seahawks so much, they’re starting him over their top free agent acquisition Matt Flynn.

After the success of second round pick Andy Dalton last year, teams across the league seem more confident in starting first year quarterbacks who weren’t top picks. Dalton threw for 20 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards while leading the Bengals to 9 wins and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Dalton was considered a less prospect than Cam Newton yet had just as an impressive season as the top pick did. The Seahawks, Dolphins and Browns are hoping the same holds true this season.

However they seem to be ignoring the egregious failure that was Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert got the start for the Jaguars and went on to lead all quarterbacks in fumbles (14), finish with the lowest Quarterback Rating (65.4) and yards per attempt (5.4), post the second worst completion percentage (50.8%) and was the third most sacked QB (40).

Gabbert was a well thought of prospect, drafted tenth overall, but was thrust into a starting spot too early, as Jacksonville had no other options at the position. That is exactly how teams should not handle young quarterbacks. Throwing them into a position to fail will only damage their confidence and give them very few positives to build around.

Gabbert’s performance and hair have been far from satisfactory.

Weeden and Wilson both seem closer to finished products than Gabbert was and should be at least competent in their starting roles. Tannehill, however, was drafted high due to his potential and is more of the project Gabbert was thought to be. Having played two seasons at Texas A&M at receiver before switching to quarterback for two seasons, Tannehill is still learning the position and could struggle his rookies, especially given the lack of offensive weapons around him.

The trial by fire path seems to have replaced the past strategy of handling rookie QBs. Many of the NFL’s best field generals started their careers as backups to established veterans, learning the nuances of the game from them without suffering the risk of fractured confidence.

Take Jake Locker for instance. The Titans quarterback spent his rookie year last season learning from Matt Hasselbeck. This season, Locker has beat out Hasselbeck and has shown significant improvement in his decision making and accuracy.

With so many young quarterbacks who earned their starting spots in a variety of ways, this season could be an interesting case study in quarterback development.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

Jets Steal New York Spotlight For the Wrong Reasons

It can’t get much worse for the New York Jets offense these days.

The Jets have gone 12 quarters, 35 drives, and 174 plays without a TD this preseason. IT’S THE PRESEASON, come on now.

For the Mark Sanchez – Rex Ryan era, this is rock bottom.

It goes past the old notion of “Preseason doesn’t matter.” Mentally, the touchdown-drought has to be lingering in the thoughts of these Jets players.

At least the team still has hope. A hope that relies on Tim Tebow and the “Tebow-package”, the only real part of the Jets’ offensive repertoire the team hasn’t shown yet.

The Jets offensive shortcomings so far have put even more pressure on that wildcat scheme to succeed. Whether it does or doesn’t, will in turn put more pressure on Mark Sanchez to succeed.

Going into this fourth year as quarterback of the Jets, Sanchez is taking steps backwards rather than forward.

Image

Remember Mark Sanchez was “Sanchize” and leading the Jets past Tom Brady and the Patriots in the playoffs?

He began his career with back-to-back AFC championship game trips, then missed the playoffs last year and now has been a focal point of the team’s offensive woes this preseason.

For Sanchez, the pressure is on. This isn’t Houston or Tampa Bay where he can play under the radar. This is New York, where every move he makes is monitored, and likely scrutinized.

He’s had three years to develop, and now this year it’s time for him to answer the all-important question – “Is Mark Sanchez the New York Jets’ franchise quarterback?”

Sanchez has to handle more than the expectations. He has to handle the comparisons as well.

The “Other” New York quarterback, Eli Manning just won his second Super Bowl after winning his first one during his fourth year. Through the first three years of their careers, both quarterback’s statistics look virtually identical.

If the Jets are going to make any noise this season they’re going to need Mark Sanchez to take that next step.

Sometimes though the Jets’ actions run seem to hinder Sanchez’s development.

How about by bringing Tebow in?

The Jets believed that Tebow  could run the wildcat offense and that he could push Mark Sanchez to elevate his game.

Instead, so far it’s brought the distraction of Tebow-mania to New York for the relentless New York media to pound on.

Instead it’s seemed to blur the confidence Jets management publicly had in Sanchez.

The Jets offensive line hasn’t done Sanchez any favors either. They allowed seven sacks against the Giants. Rex Ryan even went so far as to insert a new right tackle, Austin Howard, into the starting lineup earlier this week.

Aside from a few mistakes though, Sanchez has looked sharp in his last two preseason games. But it’s not good enough for Sanchez anymore.

Luckily for the Jets in a few weeks they can silence all their doubters. They can make everyone forget.

For a team that runs on uncanny self-confidence, they’re going to to need some of that to change the direction of this football team.

Leave a comment

Filed under NFL

Red Sox and Dodgers Complete Star-Studded Trade

This weekend, a blockbuster deal was made in baseball that amassed more contract dollars for the Los Angeles Dodgers in one day than another blockbuster, Borat, made in two months at the box office. 

In the unlikeliest of post trade-deadline moves, the Red Sox sent infielder Nick Punto, outfielder Carl Crawford, pitcher Josh Beckett and power-hitting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers for first baseman James Loney and a host of Boston’s most promising prospects.

For the Red Sox, the deal offers a chance to rebuild as their worst season in recent memory has them effectively out of playoff contention.  Their 60-67 record has them in fourth place in the AL East and 9.5 games out of the American League’s second Wild Card spot. 

 

The addition of Gonzalez this season and Crawford next season offers Matt Kemp some protection in one of the league’s most anemic lineups.

 

Boston overnighted a considerable amount of Major League experience and $262.5 million in payroll over the next several years but welcomed in significant potential. 

Pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster have combined for .2 innings in the MLB but are likely to be consistent inning eaters for the Red Sox in the next couple seasons and infielder Jerry Sands is poised to hit his stride after getting his feet wet with the Dodgers. 

The minor league phenom is hitting a sub-Mendoza Line .174 but only had 23 at bats this season with Los Angeles before being dealt.  Loney, the other position player now being sent to Boston, offers a good-enough veteran bat that should take Boston to the end of the season with no glaring issues.

In Los Angeles, obtaining Crawford, Punto, Beckett and Gonzalez frees up a substantial amount of cash to pursue free agents in the off-season…pause not (as our friend Borat would so eloquently put it).

After picking up Hanley Ramirez, who is owed $15.5 million in 2013, just a few weeks ago, the Dodgers front office is now throwing more money at the wall, hoping a National League pennant will be what sticks. 

As with most roster moves, however, the Dodgers are getting more on paper than in reality. 

Crawford is a long-term investment and will have five years remaining on his contract at season’s end but is out at least until Spring Training after undergoing Tommy John surgery two days ago. 

Gonzalez has been effective this season with 16 home runs and 87 RBI but will be turning 31 next May and Beckett, 5-11 with a 5.23 ERA, is putting up KFC-in-the-clubhouse type numbers in his 2012 campaign. 

Keep in mind, Beckett is just one season removed from going 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA.

L.A. currently finds itself 2 games back of the Giants in the NL West and a half-game out of the second Wild Card position. 

Despite his rocky start, look for Beckett to pitch well in the month of September.  The right-hander has had success in pressure situations before (see: 2003 World Series) and the turmoil in Boston’s clubhouse with Manager Bobby Valentine certainly hasn’t helped this season.  His presence will bolster the back end of a rotation that currently features a shaky-at-best Joe Blanton. 

Sometimes a change in scenery is exactly what three talented players need.  Carl Crawford looked as though he hit with the weight of the world (equivalent to the expectations of Red Sox Nation) on his shoulders last season and Adrian Gonzalez, a San Diego native, will once again enjoy the luxury of not having to worry about things like wind chill come late September.

Despite all the questions surrounding this late-season shuffle, it seems as though everyone is now in the right place.  The Red Sox return to their “farm system-built” feel, while the Dodgers come one step closer to making Magic Johnson look like a combination savior-genius. 

With the dust finally settling after the dropping of this unexpected bombshell, Boston now provides some legitimacy for its long-term hopes; without immediate production in Los Angeles, the Dodgers playoff hopes for this season “will be execute.”

1 Comment

Filed under MLB